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- Common Sayings With Historical Origins
- 1. Avocado
- The word for avocado comes from the Aztec word, "ahuacatl," which means testicle. Aside from the similar shape, avocados also act as aphrodisiacs, foods that stimulate sex drive. I propose we un-complicate the story and rename them "testicle fruit."
- 2. Robot
- The word "robot" comes from the Czech word "robota," meaning "forced labor" — which sounds strangely like slavery. Remember iRobot?
- 3. Assassin
- Members of a fanatical Muslim sect during the Crusades used to smoke hashish and then murder leaders on the opposing side. They started going by the name "hashishiyyin," meaning hashish-users in Arabic.
- Through centuries of mispronunciation, English arrived at "assassin."
- Whiskey is the shortened form of whiskeybae, which comes from the Old English "usquebae," derived from two Gaelic words: uisce (water) and bethu (life). Thus, whiskey literally means "water of life."
- 5. Crocodile tears
- Modern English speakers use the phrase “crocodile tears” to describe a display of superficial or false sorrow, but the saying actually derives from a medieval belief that crocodiles shed tears of sadness while they killed and consumed their prey. The myth dates back as far as the 14th century and comes from a book called “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.” Wildly popular upon its release, the tome recounts a brave knight’s adventures during his supposed travels through Asia. Among its many fabrications, the book includes a description of crocodiles that notes, “These serpents sley men, and eate them weeping, and they have no tongue.” While factually inaccurate, Mandeville’s account of weeping reptiles later found its way into the works of Shakespeare, and “crocodile tears” became an idiom as early as the 16th century.
- 6. yellow journalism
- Back in the day, comics were a circulation selling point for papers looking to glom readers any way they could. And if your paper recently acquired the ability to print color, why then …
- There was a comic feature called “The Yellow Kid,” whose eponymous main character was a shaven-headed (a common method of fighting headlice in crowded tenements), jug-eared kid, who looked like he might have been a poor ancestor of MAD’s Alfred E. Neuman, and whose only article of clothing was a bright yellow nightshirt on which his dialogue was displayed.
- The Kid was a circulation builder, and rival papers fought over the feature and its creator — and at one point there were two of him, drawn for rival papers by different artists (ethics schmethics).
- At any rate, the underhanded methods by which the papers secured the Kid for their pages, and undertook other measures to lure readers, took their umbrella name from the color of the Kid’s nightshirt.
- 7. Sandwich
- Sandwiches get their (strange) name from the 4th Earl of Sandwich, an 18th century English politician and nobleman.
- The circumstances of Lord Sandwich’s supposed invention of the sandwich is a subject of hot debate among linguists. Some believe he consumed his food between two pieces of bread so he didn’t have to leave his beloved gambling table, and that his fellow gamblers began to ask the servants for “the same as Sandwich” and, later, just “a sandwich”.
- 8. Shampoo
- Now you have even more of a reason to enjoy your shower time. The word shampoo comes from Hindi, and means ‘to massage’. Derived from the Sanskrit root chapati (चपति), the word initially referred to any type of pressing, kneading, or soothing. The definition was later extended to mean ‘wash the hair’ in 1860, and it was only in the 1950s that its meaning was further extended to refer to the washing of carpets and other materials.
- 9. Ketchup
- The infamous tomato sauce you slather over your fries might not always have tasted quite like it does now. There are many theories about where the term originates, but the first possible reference to it might have been as early as the 17th century, when the Chinese used “kôe-chiap” (鮭汁) to refer to a mix of pickled fish and spices. And ketchup’s first recording in the English language is listed in a 1690 dictionary in which it is spelled ‘Catchup’.
- 10. Quarantine
- This word for a period or place of isolation to prevent the spread of disease has an interesting backstory. “Quarantine” comes from the Italian words quaranta giorni (“forty days”) because in the 14th century, that’s how long ships coming to Venice from plague-infected ports were required to sit before the passengers were allowed to come ashore, giving enough time to see if symptoms develop.
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